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October 11, 2006

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K

Awesome and interesting post. I've also been offended by those who make a connection between FGM and circumcision. While parts left me speechless, it satisfied much of my (as a birth-circumsiced man) curiosity on the topic (particularly the discussions of the foreskin's role sexual pleasure). I had a sense of trust that God wouldn't command something so damaging, but I also realized that hardly anyone would know for sure. Thanks for providing one of the only unbiased, first-schlong reports on the topic.

The Gonzman

Not all female circumcision is a Clitoridectomy - the female equivalent of removal of the penis; Clitoridotomy is the same analog as male circumcision; the conflation arises from a desire for consistancy of use; if a clitoridotomy is "genital mutilation" because it is done at a young age, without informed consent, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If Circumcision is not "genital mutilation," conversely, neither is a Clitoridotomy.

You had yours at 37. With full choice and and adult, informed consent. Sorry, Hugo - Apples and Oranges. Many adult women pierce their clitoris, which is regarded as Genital Mutilation if done in infancy or childhood.

And what if the child grows up to be gay? Circumcision to prevent "cervical cancer" isn't an issue, then, is it? Pretty heteronormative, I have to say, eh?

Ed

I remember reading an article relating to circumcision in a magazine geared towards Filipino-Americans. It opened with an anecdote of a business sign in Tagalog and English (catering to Fil-Ams) that had good intentions, but was misinterpreted with humorous results. The sign was supposed to say Tuloy po kayo "please come in", but instead it read Tuli po kayo "please be circumcised". And then the author proceeded to describe his own circumcision in the Phlippines.

It is not tied to anything overtly religious, but it is a rite of passage that involves a river, a group of nervous pre-teens (usually - but there are accounts of males undergoing this as adults), and the local barber. I don't want to spell out all the gory details, but once the procedure is done, the "candidates" spit a chewed wad of guava leaves onto their penises to staunch bleeding and promote healing. If anyone should freak out and refuse to have the procedure done, the person may be called sugpot, an "unmasculine" label.

I even remember a comedic Filipino movie with a river circumcision scene. The barber (played by a well-known comedic actor) had just completed several procedures that day. A grown man approaches him, requesting a circumcision. The barber examines him for a moment, then goes into the back and retrieves a cleaver (!) for the procedure. A earthier sense of humor, folks.

justaguy

You can't compare circumcision to FGM because FGM is a broad category spanning everything from minor cutting of the clitoral hood to legitimate genital mutilation (e.g.. removing the labia minora, sewing the vaginal opening shut, etc). Thus, your thesis that "To suggest that male circumcision is equivalent to Female Genital Mutilation is like comparing the pain of a vaccinating needle to that of being stabbed by a knife" is a Strawman argument and therefore invalid. Be specific; male circumcision is indeed comparable to some types of female "circumcision."

Further, your suggestion that you have the right - let alone ability - to speak for all circumcised men on the matter is a shameless display of hubris found commonly here but practically nowhere else. Who the hell gives you the right to speak for the rest of us circumcized men, especially those of us who have lived an entire life this way? You're truly a babe in the woods, a newbie to the nth degree, so again, where do you get off speaking on this topic. IMO you need to live a few decades as a circumcized man and then get back with us; until then, how about putting a lid on it and listen to those with more experience in these matters. For a change.

Circumcision removes excess tissue, as does some forms of FGM. Again, it depends on the procedure. Therefore, your arguments re. personal hygeine are also tenuous, as there are some valid arguments for removing excess labial tissue vis-a-vis prevention of Candida albicans infections, condylata papilloma, etc.

You say you did it for your wife and the women in sub-Saharan Africa say they do it for their husbands. Other than your monumental arrogance, what explanation can you offer that explains why your motives are righteous and theirs are not? And why is the so-called "victim arrogance" of men who genuinely feel that they've been wronged by never being able to understand what it is to be a 'whole' man vis-a-vis intact penis somehow less legitimate than than the self-righteous puffing and preening you once again offer up here?

Hugo

Justaguy, if I am as uniquely self-righteous and preening as you say you find me, why do you visit? What strange masochistic urge brings you here to read what you find so objectionable? I am not so popular that I need public refutation by the likes of you, right?

You are furious because my experience (and that of other men; and in the course of going through this, I talked to many men who had done what I had done as an adult) contradicts the "victim" narrative that MRAs want to create around circumcision.

Mike

Interestingly enough, at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference this weekend, the most proactive folks I ran into at the trade show belonged to an anti-circumcision group. I was not aware of any studies showing any decreased transmission of HIV in circumcised men. For years, one of the arguments for circumcision was that it decreased the rate of penile cancer, a relatively rare disease. It's been a while since I looked at this in any detail, but my understanding is that many folks feel that this small decrease is not enough to declare any real medical benefit to circumcision. The AAP kind of leaves it up in the air as well.

Stephen Frug

Thank you for posting this.

Lauren

Great post, Hugo. I always like when you get risky.

thechief

I agree that comparing circumcision of a man under western-style medical conditions is no comparison to clitorus removal as it's practiced in most parts of Africa (although, as Gonzman points out, those practices come in different degrees depending on the location and culture within Africa and don't always involve removing of the entire clitorus). For myself, I was circumcised as an infant--don't remember it, don't know any other way of being, can't believe it did me any real harm.

I will, say, however, that the practice of female circumcision is a long standing practice in African cultures. I find it particularly hypocritical that some ardent multiculturalists will quickly criticize the "imposing" of Western culture on the third world in most cases yet seem so determined to impose our western values on the natives and stamp out this particular traditional cultural practice....

Helena

Just prior to my twin sons' birth, I asked my husband (who is circumcised) what he thought of circumcising our sons. I was ambivalent and leaning slightly against it. My husband was absolutely adamant that they be circumcised, and gave hygiene and better sexual function/pleasure as reasons. But I questioned how he could possibly know this... after all, like so many men, he was circumcised at birth, so how would he know the difference?

So I appreciate this post tremendously, Hugo. Thanks.

Auguste

Who the hell gives you the right to speak for the rest of us circumcized men, especially those of us who have lived an entire life this way?

Sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night.

Bianca

The difference is that you made a free choice to be circumcised, as an adult. Male infants who are circumcised don't have a choice. This makes it just as much a violation of their bodily integrity as FGM. I don't think anyone would argue that circumcising infant males is as *invasive*, as painful, or as dangerous as FGM; but it is definitely unecessary surgery performed on someone who cannot legally consent.

Hugo

Bianca, do you oppose vaccinating infants for the same reason?

Arwen

Although my husband is circumcised, we did not get the procedure done for either of our boys. We felt that the differences between the penises of children and the penises of grown men were sufficiently different that we weren't worried about the comparison.

When our first was born, the AIDS thing wasn't known, nor the possible cervical cancer connection. Of course, in the condom-available first world, I strongly advise CONDOMS, and not lack of foreskin, to be the safe sex protection of choice: AIDS has certainly not been a null issue in my largely circumcised generation. Similarly, hygiene is a necessity.

We felt that it was their bodies, and therefore their choice; we weren't going to interfere with that which they'd been born with and was not medically necessary.

However, I am extremely happy to learn that your adult circumcision was not problematic should either want to have the procedure as adults. From the word on the street, adult circumcision sounds horrible: but from what we could tell from pre-natal research, the procedure is relatively quick, carries not great risks, and is only mildly uncomfortable.

The Gonzman

Bianca, do you oppose vaccinating infants for the same reason?

Apples and Oranges, again, and on more than one count.

Mermade

Your best posts are ones with some "TMI." For that matter, I have to say that I've never seen an uncircumcised penis... nor have I heard of being circumcised in one's 30s! By the way, I heard that uncircumcised men experience more sexual pleasure than circumcised ones, something like 60% of a man’s nerves are in the foreskin. I guess that's just a myth - it certainly doesn't seem to matter in my, um, relationship.

Hugo

Mermade, I can put that rumor to bed without any more detail.

The Happy Feminist

I will, say, however, that the practice of female circumcision is a long standing practice in African cultures. I find it particularly hypocritical that some ardent multiculturalists will quickly criticize the "imposing" of Western culture on the third world in most cases yet seem so determined to impose our western values on the natives and stamp out this particular traditional cultural practice....

Actually, the people working hardest to stamp out this particular traditional cultural practice are women from the very cultures that practice it. And they have had some great successes. And yes, I support those women out of respect for them and because my respect for other cultures does not extend to what I view as violations of human rights.

bmmg39

"I even remember a comedic Filipino movie with a river circumcision scene."

...and THAT'S THE PROBLEM.

People want to argue that FGM and male circumcision are inherently different? Fine. But both mutilate the human body to some degree, and we can't even have a conversation on circumcision in this country because there are inevitably jokes about it. Heck, if a woman does something to a man's body a hundred times more EXTREME than circumcision, people are STILL making jokes about it.

I agree with Gonz and Bianca on this matter. If a legal adult wishes to have a surgery/procedure to alter a certain part of her/his body, all well and good. Go crazy. But doing it to thousands to millions of newborn boys without any dialogue on the matter is monstrous.

Oh, yeah. Anyone know what else might reduce the rates of HIV infection? Not screwing everything that moves. But I won't hold my breath for someone to suggest that one. Oh, no. Cutting off part of the human body is just so much more palatable.

history_mom

I have to say that this was an interesting post! I want to thank you for sharing such a personal story, but I would caution about framing the anti-circ position as an MRA interest (just as it is overreaching to compare male circumcision to FGM- clitoridotomy only accounts for 1% of these surgeries). There are a lot of people reconsidering male circumcision and the claims made to justify keeping it as a routine procedure in pediatrics (most of which you repeated in this post- namely health reasons). By the way, on a circumcision debate board I frequent several men who were circumcised as adults would absolutely disagree that their sexual function was not affected, proving yet again that the plural of anecdote is not data.

In the U.S. the reasons for continuing to circumcise most male infants is as much a cultural decision as it is in Africa- most people take it for granted that males are circumcised and assume it must be for a good (medical) reason or they believe the aesthetics of the penis are important psychologically (locker room abuse or "to look like Daddy"). No health organization recommends circumcision as a routine procedure for medical reasons (i.e. the hygiene and other supposed benefits are minimal at best: normal procedure for treating UTI's is antibiotics, not surgery- we don't usually remove body parts because they *might* become infected later, KWIM). Indeed, I am still waiting for the mass epidemic of health problems in Western Europe from all those uncircumcised penises!

I just had my son two months ago and my husband and I agreed that he would not be circumcised because his penis was born perfect the way it is. If he chooses to remove his foreskin, for whatever reason, we will support him, but it is not our right to remove parts of his body for non-medical or non-religious reasons.

Vaccines are completely different- decades of scientific research have borne out their efficacy and necessity in protecting one's health, whereas recent scientific research has shown the opposite for male circumcision. Indeed, the risk of vaccines has always been far less than the risks from vaccine-preventable diseases. The study in South Africa had many flaws- an important one being the narrow population sample- and did not consider other factors that might account for reduced infection rates among circumcised males, such as behavior. Besides, if we assume that all people should be practicing safe sex (don't get me started about Bush's aid policies), there should be no statistically significant differences between HIV and cervical cancer rates between circ'd and uncirc'd.

Sorry for the long post.

glendenb

Hugo - I'm have a strong visceral reaction to your story. I have always sworn that if I become a parent and my child is male, I will absolutely NOT have him circumcised. The idea of an adult choosing to have it done is difficult for me to fathom. However, the emotional logic of your choice makes sense to me - the idea of being a literally new person, with a clear physical sign of that difference, makes perfect emotional sense to me. I’m inclined to view circumcision unfavorably.

I do not believe male circumcision is comparable to female genital mutilation. But I’m loath to expect male circumcision should be a standard procedure. Throughout most of the 20th century, it was performed in American hospitals without consulting the parents. It’s only been within the last 20 years that parents are given an option; back in the days when you and I and our brothers were being born, parents had to be extremely proactive to avoid circumcision. Today, at least, most hospitals ask before performing the procedure.

I have a feeling there is a meaningful discussion of the connection between the way in which our society treats the human body and attitudes toward circumcision.

If the body is strictly functional then circumcision is standard practice based on the assertion of good health arising from the procedure. If the body is the primary means by which we experience the world, if it is glorious, sensual, sexual, valued and honored, then circumcision could be seen as choice or aesthetic value or personal freedom. If the body belongs to the self versus the body being an integral part of the self I think it alters the way in which we view the body.

Female genital mutilation is practiced in cultures which radically restrict women’s freedoms – the female body is not perceived as belonging to the woman; thus mutilating her genitals is approved. Acknowledging a woman’s autonomy means permitting her to live and grow as she was born and if as an adult she makes the choice to alter her body, that is her right. I don’t believe it is coincidental that the “automatic” practice of circumcision has declined in the US as we have become more aware of women’s reproductive rights, freedoms and sexuality. It speaks to me of a general improvement in the awareness of the right of persons to change their bodies once they are adults but to be unmolested as children. In some sense, inking one’s skin or piercing it is a right adults have. Men should, I believe, have the right to choose circumcision as adults. I suspect Hugo would be among the minority.

However, if circumcision is a sacred rite – as in Judaism – then circumcision would represent a care for the body as a sacred part of creation. The spirit of the act seems crucial to me. The attitude toward the body is reflected in the attitude toward circumcision – both by doing or not doing it.

Hugo

Glen, the quarrel over infant/adult circumcision mirrors (for me) the quarrel over infant/adult baptism. The former is obviously a more dramatic physical procedure, but for the believer, baptism is viscerally real -- and it leaves spiritual marks as enduring as those left behind by circumcision. The Anabaptist tradition to which I half belong rejected infant baptism; the Anglican tradition to which I half belong embraces it. I will have to ponder this part further, Glen:

I don’t believe it is coincidental that the “automatic” practice of circumcision has declined in the US as we have become more aware of women’s reproductive rights, freedoms and sexuality. It speaks to me of a general improvement in the awareness of the right of persons to change their bodies once they are adults but to be unmolested as children.

Let me mull that for a while.

AMS

Hugo, you should have called this post:

"It looks like a pistol, instead of an apple like it's supposed to".

As a woman, I've been mostly with circumcised guys. The one uncircumcised guy I was with freaked me out, and when the penis is soft, you're right, it looks just like a little pistol. As far as what I felt, once I got over the weirdness of the differetn look, there was no difference in what it was like.

I'm impressed you underwent this for your wife, and it was your idea. It's like a tatt, only more intimate.

Antigone

Let's review:

Female genital mutilation: extrodinarily painful (even if it's "just" removing the clitoral hood), often leads to medical conditions, makes it impossible to enjoy sex, imposed by cultural dictates and you don't have it you can become unmarriagable, and shunned by the community.

Circumsicion: very little pain, can prevent medical problems, sex enjoyment is the exact same amount, arguably imposed by cultural dictates, but if you don't have it, you occasionally have to deal with idiot teenagers.

Hmm, yep that's comparable. I mean, it sucks when things happen to women, but if it happens to a GUY, then stop the presses.

I'm sympathetic to the argument that it should be chosen, not imposed, but then again, if you say that you open a whole 'nother ball of worms. Vaccines ARE comparable: I sure as heck never consented to those when I was little. Religion is another one: I never consented to go to church, it was imposed on me, as were my ear-piercing when I was 3 and getting spanked.

The Grouch

But both mutilate the human body to some degree

But the degree is important. Clitoridectomy--which is what is meant by "female circumcision"---completely removes the main site of sexual pleasure for women.

Clitoridotomy is the same analog as male circumcision; the conflation arises from a desire for consistancy of use; if a clitoridotomy is "genital mutilation" because it is done at a young age, without informed consent, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

No. Clitoridectomy is analogous to male castration. The clitoris is the female analog of the penis, not of the foreskin.

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